Mississippi State head football coach Jackie Sherrill, during his Tuesday press conference, talked about his team's upcoming game against an LSU team he considers the best he has ever faced, the play of his defense this season, playing so many freshmen, advice to MSU fans and how important protecting quarterback Kevin Fant will be to his team's success."> Mississippi State head football coach Jackie Sherrill, during his Tuesday press conference, talked about his team's upcoming game against an LSU team he considers the best he has ever faced, the play of his defense this season, playing so many freshmen, advice to MSU fans and how important protecting quarterback Kevin Fant will be to his team's success.">

Jackie Sherrill September 23rd Press Conference

<img src="http://www.genespage.com/images/coaches/football/sherrillpressconf.jpg" align="left" width="120" height="159"> Mississippi State head football coach Jackie Sherrill, during his Tuesday press conference, talked about his team's upcoming game against an LSU team he considers the best he has ever faced, the play of his defense this season, playing so many freshmen, advice to MSU fans and how important protecting quarterback Kevin Fant will be to his team's success.

Opening comments:

"LSU, on film, would best be described as a complete football team, offensively, defensively, kicking game.

"Offensively, they have some superstars that really give you a lot of problems. They have four seniors, four juniors, two redshirt (sophomores) and one freshman. (Wide receiver Michael) Clayton is, without a doubt, an outstanding football player. (He is) 6-4, 200+, excellent speed and hands. He is also an outstanding blocker. He doesn't come off the field. They play him in the kicking game. (Quarterback Matt) Mauck is a very steady player. He has (only) made a couple of mistakes and that could have been the wrong read. But he has been very impressive, very smart. He runs the option very well. They have a tight end (Eric Edwards) that is probably the best tight end that I have seen in this league in a long time as far as being a blocker. He is really something to watch. I don't think he has missed a block in all the film that I have watched. Georgia was probably the best film to watch as far as talent. Against him, their outside linebacker really had no chance. I don't think he made a play. That is a big challenge for our outside people. Their people up front (both sides of the ball) are very good football players. That is one of the reasons why they are very impressive."

"Defensively, they have a lot of football players back. They have a (defensive) team that has a tremendous amount of experience; four seniors, six juniors and one freshman. They are very physical. They are allowing their opponents only 65 yards rushing (per game). That is pretty outstanding when you (consider that they have) play(ed) Georgia."

"In the kicking game they do a couple of different things. On their punt formation they will line up all the way across the field from hash to hash and they will have three and half foot splits between their linemen. They put their three protectors back there and have done a very good job with it. They started using it last week against Georgia and it worked out very well for them."

LSU's victory over Georgia:
"Georgia had plenty of times (to score) early, but couldn't. The longer (the game) went on, the more you could see that LSU took over the game and did what they had to do to win."

MSU Injuries:
"We still have some players trying to get back on the field. (Offensive guard) Johnny Wadley probably will not be back and we still have a very big question mark on Darren (Williams). Hopefully, we will get the orthopedic foot insert for his sole and get him ready to play this week. Corey (Clark) hasn't been on the field, yet. We won't know until (Tuesday) or (Wednesday). Everybody else should be back but those." (Brad Weathers also won't play and will, I feel, be redshirted.-Gene)

Things needed to do to beat LSU:
"We will have to do two or three things to beat LSU. One, we can't leave anybody uncovered. We are going to have to stop the run because they are a heavy run team even though they throw the ball very well. If you don't (stop the run), then they are going to wear you out. They don't have that many plays, but the plays they have, they are very efficient and very physical in running them."

Q & A:

Would you say this is the best LSU team that you have ever faced?
"From top to bottom, yes, they probably are. From top to bottom, this is probably their most talented team."

In terms of the resources that you need to win, (is LSU) in a good situation compared to other schools? "Probably better. There is only one major institution in Louisiana and there are a lot of players in Louisiana. If you look at the alumni base (in Louisiana), there is no question that it is dominated by one school (LSU). If all the players in the state of Mississippi went to one school, then you could compete with anybody at any time, so LSU has a great advantage in the state of Louisiana. The same thing in Arkansas with Arkansas. They have a great advantage, but the difference in Arkansas and Louisiana is they have a greater number of high school players in the state of Louisiana than they have in Arkansas." (LSU has 11 players that are up for post-season honors with 9 of them being from the state of Louisiana.-Gene)

Which of your players will go against their tight end?
"You have Jason (Clark), Rico (Bennett) and (Chris) Swain. He will also block some of our defensive ends, too, but those three guys are the ones that he will be blocking most of the time."

What are you going to do to try and stop Clayton?
"Probably put 11 on him at a time if we can get 11 on him. They move him around, so you can't say he is going to line up as an X or Z every play. They move him around to do all different things, so there will be different people on him at different times."

How dangerous can a team that has not won a game be against a top 10 team that has just came off a huge, emotional win against another ranked dream?
"Both teams are going to play. Saban said it the other day: It doesn't make any difference if you beat Georgia then have a problem the next week. To be in the elite position of being in the top 10, the top 5, you have to play like that every week. Will we see a great football team? Yes, LSU is a very, very good football team. That team has building the last couple of years."

Allowing 28 points early in two of the three games before your team scores, is that indicative of anything?
"Maybe (it is) the mindset, the pressure of trying to make things happen rather than just going out and playing."

Have you seen any improvement on the defensive side of the ball?
"There is improvement. There has been improvement in a lot of areas. Some people up front have played better. A couple of the linebackers have played better. But we are still not playing a complete package, meaning making sure we get to the quarterback when he scrambles, also making sure we cover the receivers."

How concern are you that after three games you are still talking about your team making the same mistakes on defense?
"When you have young guys, you are going to have that. It is harder to play zone (defense) than it is to play man (defense). (In) man, you just say you got him and if he beats you he beats you. But in zone, when you try to coordinate everything, the coordination has to be very, very good."

You mentioned that it is more difficult to play zone. Would you consider your cornerbacks playing man later on if the defense doesn't adjust?
"It is part of our package, but when you played the style of offenses that (we have) played, you want to make sure you didn't put kids in positions (where) they didn't know which man to cover due to all the motion and shifts. Are we going to have (those kind of offenses) the rest of the way? Probably not, because the people you are going to line up and play with, especially in this league, are going to bloody your nose if you are not able to line up and go against them."

Do you still have confidence in this defensive scheme?
"Yes. There is nothing wrong with the schemes, at all. If you take the teams that are the top 10 teams in the country, they are running the same schemes."

Do you think it is unfair of people to make (defensive coordinator) Ron Cooper the lightning rod?
"That is part of coaching. That is going to happen. A lot of people give a lot of credit (to someone) when it is really somebody else really doing it. And a lot of people get the criticism when other people are part of (the problem). But that's never going to change and you have to accept it and move on."

Is this the game where you find out if your team can really run the ball?
"It is going to be a big challenge, because they are very talented up front. Those front four guys have been together for a while and are pretty talented. You will see a lot of football players on that team in the next league because they are talented."

You have decided to play a lot of true freshmen this year. Is that an indication that they are very good players or that your recruiting didn't go quite like you wanted it to go earlier?
"We probably had a period in there that (we) didn't overlap, but you could say it is a combination of both."

How do you think the freshmen that you have put out there have done up to this point?
"Quite a few of them have played well. There is no question on offense, (offensive guard) Otis Riddley has (played well). (Junior offensive guard) Will Rogers, even though he is not a freshman (it is like) he is a freshman because this is just his third game to play at guard. Those two guys have made a lot of improvement."

What would you say to those people who say it is not in the best long-term interest of the program to play freshmen like Donovan Davis and Omarr Conner sparingly this year?
"One thing they don't understand is (Omarr Conner) is getting a lot more knowledge doing what he is doing than he would be over on the scout team running the scout team plays. Omarr, if you ask him about the offense, is more prepared to tell you about the offense than he would have been if he had redshirted. (You could say) the same thing (about) Donovan Davis; he is getting a lot more knowledge. Now, at the end of the year, you can say maybe we should have redshirted him. (But) there have only been about 4 or 5 guys over the 13 years that we have been here where we have said we wished we had held them out."

But, at the same time, don't you want to avoid what happened to (linebacker) Kenny Kern last year where he played a few games early then didn't play anymore and now he is a sophomore?
"Kenny got hurt. That's why we didn't play him. He had a minor injury and we made a decision (to not play him). You have 5 games to play 3 (before they can't get a medical redshirt)." (MSU has applied for a medical redshirt year for Kenny due to his injury.-Gene)

What advice would you give the MSU fans (during this period)?
"Basically, the advice I can give to our people is support (the team) and do whatever you have to do to be (at the games). None of us want to be in this situation. When you are in it, you want to (blame) this person or (blame) that person and that doesn't really get you anywhere."

To win this game, how important is it to keep Kevin Fant from getting beat up by the third quarter?
"You are going to have to make sure that doesn't happen. He (also) has to protect himself, meaning calling the right play and getting the ball out of his hand. As long as we can protect his backside, he can protect his frontside, meaning getting the ball out of his hand (in time)."

Where have you seen the most improvement in Kevin this year?
"He has been able to get the ball out of his hands and in the (receivers) hands real quick. That is a good side. We are going to play a team this week that is going to press the receivers. It is going to be a pretty good challenge for our receivers to be able to get off the ball and run their routes. They haven't been challenged like they will be challenged this week. Justin Jenkins has really established himself. I would say he and (LSU's Michael) Clayton are two of the top players in the league, receiving-wise."

Talk a little about Clarence McDougal.
"We are putting him in different roles, meaning that we are trying to make sure he is on the field and doing certain things. We have to understand even though he is not a freshman, he is a freshman (in playing experience) because he has only played in three college games. That is the problem we have with a lot of young people. While they may have some maturity to them as far as age, when they have only played in three college games, it is a learning experience everytime they go on the field."

Gene Swindoll is the owner of Gene's Page, the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports on the internet. The URL for Gene's Page is http://mississippistate.theinsiders.com. You can contact him by emailing swindoll@genespage.com.

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